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How Indians will be affected by the new criminal laws

On 11th August, the union home minister introduced three bills which aims to repeal and replace the three major acts of Indian criminal law. The India Penal Code (IPC), 1860; The Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1898; and The Indian Evidence Act, 1872, will be replaced by Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023; Bharatiya Nagrik Suraksha Sanhita, 2023; and Bharatiya Sakshaya Bill, 2023, respectively.

What is the significance of the proposed changes? The historical reform aims to modernize and simplify the outdated and complex laws. Repealing old criminal law is a progressive step. However, the change is only to an extent as majority of it remains same, a large portion of the old acts have been reproduced, which is justifiable. Changes in sections, repealing irrelevant are amongst the key points. Some sections are just reworded differently like sedition and been removed but introduced differently. Dr. Monica Kharola, Assistant Dean at the ICFAI Law School, Dehradun, said, “The need for amendment in criminal laws has been long overdue. Over a period, the nature of crimes has also evolved especially with new technologies, cybercrimes threaten individuals and institutions. There is need to check custodial deaths, curtailing corruption, dealing with organized crimes, lynching and crimes against women and children. The use of forensic science and e-FIR helps to resolve criminal cases better. Laws must be dynamic and must evolve to meet the needs of society as well as adapt to the changes. Through changes in the criminal laws, delivery of justice becomes more efficient and just these are changes for the good. Provision for summary trials and stricter laws for crimes against women and children are the need of the hour. Another important change is making the laws gender neutral.”

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The Indian Penal Code that had 511 sections will now have 356 sections in the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita. Similarly, the sections of the Code of Criminal Procedure will go from 484 to 533 in the new code; while the Evidence Act that had 167 sections will contain the same in the new code with 23 amended sections, 1 entirely new section, and 5 removed sections. Upon asking whether it is necessary to make new laws, instead of just amending the older ones, Dr. Ashish Singhal, professor at The ICFAI Law School, Dehradun, expressed, “The laws could have been amended but the thing is that, for example, if we talk about evidence act, we did not have electronic gadgets, SMS, E-mails, WhatsApp chats, etc. all these things were not there. So that’s why new laws are required.”

What are the proposed changes in the new bills? The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita bill, 2023 defines terrorism. It repeals the offense of sedition, prescribes 10 years if imprisonment for sexual intercourse with women on false promise of marriage; capital punishment as maximum sentence for mob lynching; community service as a form of punishment for specific crimes; and a minimum limit of 180 days to file a charge sheet. The Bhartiya Nagrik Suraksha Sanhita Bill, 2023 promotes the use of technology for trails. It makes video recording of statement of survivors of sexual violence compulsory. The bill mandates that police must inform about the status of a complaint in 90 days. Further, it is required that the police consult the victim before withdrawing a case punishable by 7 years or more. The Bharatiya Sakshya Bill, 2023 lays down specific criteria for admissibility of electronic evidence. It provides special provision for admissibility of DNA evidence such as consent, chain of custody, etc; recognises expert opinion as a form of evidence such as handwriting analysis; and introduces the presumption of innocence as a fundamental principle of criminal justice system.

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How will the change affect the professionals? Changes are never easy to adapt to and are often uncomfortable. Changing the three major laws of India whose existence goes back to 1860, is a major step. It has become a topic of concern for the practicing advocates, law students, professors, and universities. Adv. Prachi Pratap, Supreme Court of India, stressed, “As an advocate, one needs to acclimatise with the new law. The new sections, new provisions and altering section numbers will take adjustment for lawyers. For example, Sec 302 of IPC will be 101 of Bhartiya Nyaya Sanhita.”

Raghvendra Kumar, advocate at Patna High Court, stated, “For advocates, really it will be an extra burden to go through the new changes and memorize it all. But the changes are appreciable. Changes in punishment of heinous crimes, adding timelines to submit chargesheet, to pronounce judgement, police while raiding will have video recording, penalising physical relationship on pretext of marriage and many more, are really a very good step towards the need of the society.” The changes will put a lot of pressure on the universities as well. Changing and adapting to the new syllabus would be very time consuming and challenging. Dr. Monica Kharola asserted, “Any change in laws is a challenge for law schools. Universities and Colleges must incorporate the changes in the syllabi, ensuring effective and up to date delivery of recent amendments. Institutes must conduct debates, workshops, and conferences on the changes in law help teachers to be updated.”

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From ‘Indian’ to ‘Bharatiya’ Article 348 of the Indian Constitution pertains to the language to be used in the Supreme Court and in the High Courts, as well as for acts, bills, and other legal documents. So, are the names of the acts changing to Hindi justifiable? Dr. Monica Kharola stated, “‘India that is Bharat’ was already a part of the Indian Constitution but the dramatic change in the name of the country at a time when the coming elections are casting its shadow looks opportunistic.”

To sum it up To keep up with this ever changing and fast paced society, it is important to keep the laws up to date. However, to change the names in Hindi looks like a politically motivated step. By, Mansi Priya

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